Methylmercury affects the expression of hypothalamic neuropeptides that control body weight in C57BL/6J mice

Beatriz Ferrer, Tanara Vieira Peres, Alessandra Antunes dos Santos, Julia Bornhorst, Patricia Morcillo, Cinara Ludvig Gonçalves, Michael Aschner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Methylmercury (MeHg) is an environmental pollutant that affects primarily the central nervous system (CNS), causing neurological alterations. An early symptom of MeHg poisoning is the loss of body weight and appetite. Moreover, the CNS has an important role in controlling energy homeostasis. It is known that in the hypothalamus nutrient and hormonal signals converge to orchestrate control of body weight and food intake. In this study, we investigated if MeHg is able to induce changes in the expression of key hypothalamic neuropeptides that regulate energy homeostasis. Thus, hypothalamic neuronal mouse cell line GT 1-7 was treated with MeHg at different concentrations (0, 0.5, 1, and 5 mM). MeHg induced the expression of the anorexigenic neuropeptide pro-omiomelanocortin (Pomc) and the orexigenic peptide Agoutirelated peptide (Agrp) in a concentration-dependent manner, suggesting deregulation of mechanisms that control body weight. To confirm these in vitro observations, 8-week-old C57BL/6J mice (males and females) were exposed to MeHg in drinking water, modeling the most prevalent exposure route to this metal. After 30-day exposure, no changes in body weight were detected. However, MeHg treated males showed a significant decrease in fat depots. Moreover, MeHg affected the expression of hypothalamic neuropeptides that control food intake and body weight in a gender- and dose-dependent manner. Thus, MeHg increases Pomc mRNA only in males in a dose-dependent way, and it does not have effects on the expression of Agrp mRNA. The present study shows, for first time, that MeHg is able to induce changes in hypothalamic neuropeptides that regulate energy homeostasis, favoring an anorexigenic/catabolic profile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-568
Number of pages12
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2018



  • Control body weight
  • Glucose homeostasis
  • Hypothalamus
  • Methylmercury
  • Neuropeptides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology

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